5k? 8k? 10k? How many steps do we really need each day?

We might be asking the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, “What kind of steps should I be taking?”

Walking is one of the most popular exercises there is. It is a form of low impact, moderate intensity exercise that has a range of health benefits and few risks.

Plus, you won’t need a gym membership, just a sturdy yet comfy pair of shoes and you’re good to go. 

If you have some extra, maybe you can buy a smartwatch or you can just download a pedometer on your phone so you can easily count your steps. 

Speaking of steps, how many steps do we need? Is it really 10,000 steps?

Asking the wrong question

Walking is a popular form of physical exercise because it’s low impact, has lots of benefits, and few risks. Photo by Sincerely Media from Unsplash

According to an article in the New York Times, we are asking the wrong question. Focusing only on the number of steps “misses the whole picture.” 

Researchers are saying that the question, “What kind of steps should I be taking?” is just as important as asking “How many steps do I need in a day?” 

According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2,200 steps could help fight diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle like heart disease and diabetes. Taking 9,000 steps is even more effective. 

To help you focus on the kind of steps you’re taking and not just the count, the New York Times gives a few tips.

Make your steps count

One is to walk faster. It says that once you hit the 6,000 or 8,000 mark, you should start focusing on pace.

According to Dr. Keith Baar, a professor of molecular exercise physiology at the University of California Davis, as quoted in the article, “benefits taper off once your heart gets to a certain ‘stimulus,'” which means the same number of steps at the same pace each day.

He said that to have more effect, the stimulus has to be stronger.

Next is to walk outdoors. Dr. Baar argued that we use more energy walking on soft surfaces like gravel or dirt and even sand.

“After speeding up, consider heading up,” an article in the New York Times suggested. Photo by Bruno Nascimento from Unsplash

Third is to walk uphill. “After speeding up, consider heading up,” the article stated. Studies, including the British one mentioned above, show diminishing returns on step counts over about eight kms (five miles).

So instead of walking 12,000 or 15,000 steps, walk uphill to keep your heart rate up. The goal after all is to induce vigorous activity into your walking instead of keeping a moderate pace.

In the same article, Dr. Amanda Paluch, a kinesiology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggested the singing test: “Go hard enough you can speak short sentences but can’t sing a song.”

Dr. Sadiya Khan, a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine, suggests putting weight in your backpack to boost the intensity of your walk. Photo by Dmitry Schemelev from Unsplash

You can also consider putting weight in your backpack to boost the intensity of your walk even more, which helps with strength training while also increasing your heart rate, said Dr. Sadiya Khan, a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine.

Lastly, the article suggested jogging. Dr. Khan emphasized that your long-term health will benefit more from running. You can begin by walking then slowly increase the intervals as the days go by.

If you insist on the numbers…

But if you really want to know the hard numbers, Medical News Today has a few suggestions. According to the article, a 2020 study found that participants who took 8,000 steps per day had a 51 percent lower risk of dying by any natural cause compared with those who took 4,000 per day.

The trend continued with higher step counts, with participants who took 12,000 steps per day had a 65 percent lower risk of dying than those who took 4,000.

Fret not, it said that people who cannot reach 10,000 steps in a day can still benefit from walking.

Weren’t able to reach 10k? Don’t worry, people who cannot reach 10,000 steps in a day can still benefit from walking. Photo by Arek Adeoye

If you’re looking into walking to help you lose weight, a 2018 study involving 363 people with obesity found that “those who took 10,000 steps per day and spent at least 3,500 of those steps engaged in moderate-to-vigorous activity lasting for bouts of 10 minutes or longer experienced enhanced weight loss.”

The article mentioned if you belong to the 6 to 17 years old category, 12,000 steps is a good goal. To meet the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, however, at least one hour of this activity would need to be of moderate-to-vigorous intensity.

For older adults, they can aim for a similar step count, but if not possible, a lower step count may still provide significant benefits.

A large 2019 study involving older females found that those who walked 4,400 steps per day had a lower mortality rate after 4.3 years than those who only took 2,700 steps. In the study, the more steps the participants took, the lower the mortality rate.

It noted, though, that the trend leveled off at about 7,500 steps per day. With this, the study suggested a goal of 7,000 to 8,000 steps in a day for older adults to see significant benefits from walking.

Associate Editor

The new lifestyle.